Efforts are being made to convince a new generation of swimmers to dive into Scotland’s tidal pools, finds Sandra Dick.

The sea air would be rather bracing, the water not much warmer than freezing and the chance of swallowing a lungful of salty seawater extremely high.

Long before heated and indoor swimming pools arrived, generations of hardy souls learned to swim and then perfect their front crawl in Scotland’s dozens of coastal tidal pools.

Eventually, the lure of warm water and sunshine offered by holiday package deals tempted swimmers away. And almost all of Scotland’s once-thriving tidal pools were left to the elements and the raging sea to drift into sad decline.

Now, however, as outdoor wild swimming rises in popularity and the health benefits of enjoying a dip in the sea are once again being appreciated, renewed efforts are being made to revive interest in, and preserve, some of Scotland’s many seawater tidal pools.

In Wick, a group of volunteers is stepping up efforts to reinstate The Trinkie, a natural rock pool which emerges from an imposing shelf of Caithness stone and which until a few years ago was still a popular summer haunt for brave swimmers.

Now more appreciated for its nostalgic value and for its rock pools than as a swimming location, the Trinkie Heritage Preservation Group has launched a determined effort to save it from crumbling and return it to something resembling its former glory.

Meanwhile, at Tarlair pool in Macduff, Banffshire, efforts are being stepped up to restore the A-listed 1930s architectural gem which sits alongside the seawater pool, paddling pool and boating pond, which once boasted a tea pavilion, boating lake, changing rooms and diving board.

In the East Neuk of Fife, where tidal pools were popular in fishing villages and seaside communities, a community action group is within touching distance of receiving £270,000 of funding to restore Pittenweem’s tidal pool which once featured a slide and diving platform but which has lain unused for decades.

The ambitious project to revitalise the pool, which can be traced back to 1859, is said to have already captured the imagination of a new generation of outdoor swimmers, with summer crowds recently packing the previously abandoned pool.

Further north in Moray, locals faced with the loss of the small tidal pool at Portknockie recently raised almost £30,000 for repairs to a leaking valve and other wear and tear to ensure its survival for future generations to enjoy.

Catherine Patterson, secretary of the Trinkie Heritage Preservation Group, says there has been a surge of support from local people keen to see storm damage at the Wick pool repaired.

“We have been getting an overwhelmingly positive response to our efforts to save The Trinkie,” she says.

“It was badly damaged in a storm a few years ago which has left a significant hole in its main wall. It’s deteriorating and it needs attention before further damage is done.”

The group has had a structural study carried out and is in the throes of raising the £20,000 needed to do the work.

“I learned to swim there as did generations of local people,” adds Patterson.

“Our recent survey had tremendous responses from people who have fond memories of it and who still go there to explore the rock pools and look for crabs.

“We want to restore it for its historic role in the area where people gravitated to, and enjoyed, visiting.”

Interest in tidal pools is thought to have been sparked both by a resurgence in interest in wild swimming in Scotland, plus a wave of nostalgia for a simpler age when summer holidays were spent closer to home.

Far humbler than full-scale lidos with their properly constructed and heated swimming pools such as at Stonehaven and Gourock, tidal pools tend to emerge from the rocks, usually supported by manmade walls and access points, and which naturally replenish regularly with a fresh flood of seawater.

They rose in popularity among Victorian and Edwardian swimmers who wanted to enjoy the bracing outdoors.

Tidal pools cropped up around the coast, including in Dumfries and Galloway where Victorians invested over £500 in the construction of a distinctive oval-shaped Powfoot tidal pool in a bid to encourage outdoor swimming – although an unfortunate incident when a group of young girls nearly died after being stranded by the tide did endear it to many.

The UK’s most northerly pool, in Scalloway in Shetland, was bulldozed in 1993 to make way for a car park.

Burgh councils in holiday spots along the East Neuk and East Lothian seized the opportunity to attract tourists, with tidal pools springing up in St Andrews, St Monans and Cellardyke, North Berwick.

The one at Dunbar eventually grew to become Scotland’s largest open-air tidal pool with its Olympic standard diving board, pavilion and added attraction of the annual Miss Dunbar Bathing Suit Competition.

Even in their heyday, many pools had little in the way of safety features, and were often accessed by just a set of slippery concrete steps or a rusty handrail.

Lack of water filters meant taking a dip could mean dodging seaweed and occasional debris.

At Pittenweem, the long rectangular tidal pool emerges from the line of blackened rocks which stretch into the Forth, accessed either from the sandy beach or down cliffside steps chiselled from the sandstone.

Once one of the most popular tidal pools on the Fife coast, it originally included a diving board, clifftop pavilion and changing rooms for swimmers.

According to David Thomson, chairman of the West Braes project in Pittenweem which is driving forward plans to restore the pool to its former glory, there are hopes that it can be restored in time for next summer.

“The pool used to be incredibly packed with swimmers, with a paddling pool, boating pond and diving board,” he says.

“The council stopped maintaining it in the 1980s and it was a shame to see it start to decline. Cracks started to appear and we realised that if we didn’t do something it would be lost forever.”

The group is close to finalising £270,000 of funding from Fife LEADER and Fife Environment Trust, with work planned to start in February.

Thomson adds: “It was a case of use it or lose it.

“We have already seen renewed interest in it from wild swimmers who travel here to use it, and local families.

“They have realised we have this beautiful thing on our doorstep and we should try not to lose it.”